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article imageOp-Ed: Elevator strike in Ontario raises questions of safety

By KJ Mullins     Jun 21, 2013 in World
Toronto - Elevators are a way of life in the big city but just how safe are they when the elevator mechanics are on strike? That is the situation in Ontario.
Yesterday in Ottawa a group of eleven CEP conference attendees were stuck for 35 minutes in a hotel elevator requiring medical attention once they were freed.
The International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) have been on strike against the National Elevator Escalator Association (NEEA) in Ontario since the end of April. The average wage of a elevator mechanic is $112,000 in Ontario. It's a nice pay cheque. So why are the union members walking a picket line instead of pocketing over $50 an hour?
The workers aren't protesting wages, they want a safer work environment and a signed contract. This week some of those on strike in the Greater Toronto Area were ordered back to work. Considering the potential dangers of non-maintained elevators that may seem understandable but the workers being forced back to job sites aren't servicing hospital, nursing home or residential buildings. The NEEA just enacted a never-used clause in the Labour Act to force certain workers back to work in the residential construction industry in the GTA.
It seems that building new condos is much more important than protecting people that often rely on elevators to live. When an elevator breaks down in a nursing home stairs are the only way for residents to get outside. While the elderly and ill are the most at risk for health issues even young adults can struggle when elevators break down. Many of the young professionals in Toronto live in highrises, walking up and down 40 storeys at least twice a day isn't in their best interest.
When an elevator isn't working it can be life and death. In January, before the strike, a young man was shot on the top floor of a Toronto Community Housing apartment. The elevators were not working forcing EMS to rush up the stairs. While it can not be said that the youth would have survived if the elevators were working it can be said his initial treatment would have started sooner.
"NEEA has effectively prioritized the installation of elevators in condominiums in the GTA over repairing elevators in Ottawa hospitals, assisted living dwellings, and other public buildings," said Dan Vinette from IUEC. "It's time for the government to make a move and offer resources to get NEEA to return to the bargaining table and have both sides conclude an agreement for the benefit and safety of all Ontarians".
The Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) has stated that it “will allow elevators that have not had minor maintenance tasks completed to continue operating in order to minimize the impact on the public.” Publicly the TSSA has said that it has no role in the current contract dispute. One of the negotiators for the NEEA though is Kevin Lavallee, a board member of TSSA. Is this why TSSA not saying that Ontario's elevators are unsafe at this time? It's a question Sid Ryan, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour asked Minster of Labour Yasir Naqvi in a letter dated June 10, 2013.
It is true that elevators are generally secure and have protection features in place. The strike doesn't mean every elevator in Ontario is going to fail while the workers walk the picket line. The issue though is why is the construction of condos more important than hospitals and nursing homes when it comes to elevator maintenance? If the workers aren't being ordered to work at places that offer emergency services while their safety concerns are being negotiated then why are they forced to work putting new elevators in the sea of new condos in the GTA?
It smells like money has the final say when it comes to elevator safety.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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